Last Updated on July 23, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 390
William Carlos Williams’s seven-stanza poem “Spring and All” comprises just a few sentences on the titular subject: spring. These few elaborate sentences are, however, filled with imagery. As the poem is short, its summary is fairly straightforward: a man drives to the hospital and looks at the natural landscape that...
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William Carlos Williams’s seven-stanza poem “Spring and All” comprises just a few sentences on the titular subject: spring. These few elaborate sentences are, however, filled with imagery. As the poem is short, its summary is fairly straightforward: a man drives to the hospital and looks at the natural landscape that surrounds him in early springtime.
The way in which the landscape is described is interesting. First, the poet notices the clouds. The enjambment of the “surge of blue” at the end of the line makes the reader imagine that “blue” might be a metonym. However, the delayed noun “mottled clouds” appears in the next line, confirming for the reader the speaker’s vision. The speaker mentions a “cold wind” that drives the clouds, adding another sensory image to the first stanza.
Then the speaker’s gaze moves from up to down and from far to near. After the clouds, the speaker describes the “broad, muddy fields / brown with dried leaves.” This is a departure from the idyllic descriptions of spring that are common to pastoral poems; it is not a pastoral lyric, but a realistic description of the mud that is the unsightly harbinger of spring.
The poet’s gaze moves inward to the matter by the side of the road, which he terms “forked, upstanding, twiggy / stuff,” as though this flora were stuck in the earth like a fork, then left to overwinter. Again, the description is rather dismal; this “twiggy stuff” is filled with “dead leaves.” The poet affirms that spring is “lifeless” at the poem’s halfway mark.
There is, however, something of a reversal in the poem about halfway through. Spring is “lifeless in appearance” but really just “sluggish” and “dazed.” The speaker personifies these small trees and vines that enter the world as “naked, / cold, uncertain.” Williams implicitly draws a comparison between spring and infancy.
Then, in the final two stanzas, the poet names various specific objects (such as “grass” and “the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf”). The poet explains that these objects will gain clarity and more detailed visual definition in due course; for now, spring is the moment of profound “entrance,” when these things just begin to gain specificity. There is a “stark dignity” in this transition to spring. These natural things are now firmly “rooted” and now only have to awaken.